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What's On Live
Sara Ryan: Making giant steps, and urging people to support artists. 
Sara Ryan: Making giant steps, and urging people to support artists. 

Let's do our bit, and band together to support Cork music!

With the closure of gig venues, bars and social spaces around the country, and recommendations for self-isolation and social distancing in place, music in Ireland is in completely uncharted waters, to say the least. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with some of Cork’s musicians, DJs, promoters, bookers, and record-shop owners about the effects, and how supporters and listeners can help.

Eve Clague: Bandcamp is good for musicians.
Eve Clague: Bandcamp is good for musicians.

By now, the reality of the situation has been hammered home repeatedly, for all of us.

The spread of novel virus Covid-19 is in the middle of being slowed and contained, and while much of the panic surrounding the initial announcement of venue closedowns and bans of mass gatherings has given way to quiet streets, the mood of the conversation in Irish music is pensive.

Venues have temporarily closed, festivals have been postponed, and while some retail remains open, the record shops in Cork that were still trading (up to last weekend!) were being increasingly careful with their handling of stock and payment.

Door splits and bar guarantees are out the window in the short-term in many cases, and conversations are ongoing about rescheduled dates, with inevitable delays on more new announcements on the other side of all this.

There’s precious little clue for the majority of Irish music’s component parts as to what the future holds, but with uncertainty comes ingenuity. Among some of the measures that artists and musicians are making up for missed dates with, are live-streaming gigs, emanating from their homes and practice spaces.

Beyond The Wash: Patrick O'Donnell aware of what faces him.


Going out across various social and video platforms, they aim to provide entertainment for those in self-isolation and practicing social distancing, with income shortfalls being partially patched up by attached donation links.

St. Patrick’s Day saw Dundalk folk heroes The Mary Wallopers among those bringing the session home on YouTube, while last week, Cork-based Unemployable Promotions oversaw ‘Live at Home’, a Facebook Live event that brought together some of the cream of Cork and Limerick’s folk and singer-songwriter scenes.

Among these are Waterford man Patrick O’Donnell, bandleader and ‘curator’ of Cork-based alternative outfit Beyond the Wash, who, like many musicians, essentially functions as a freelancer between his sonic exploits, teaching and other music-related incomes. O’Donnell is keenly aware of what faces him, but maintains perspective.

“I work in a gig economy; this includes producing original music, performing for events and teaching budding musicians. All of these are affected by this crisis, most of which are postponed or cancelled. The next few months will bring significant challenges, but I see myself as lucky, as working in music is much akin to a tightrope walk.”

Hailing from Kilkenny, and now based in Cork, singer-songwriter Sara Ryan has been making giant steps in her field as of late, with a number of high-profile support slots, and the endorsement of none other than Christy Moore.

Sara Ryan: Making giant steps.
Sara Ryan: Making giant steps.
Another participant in the live-streaming proceedings, she outlines ways that people can support artists, both in practical terms, and in more personal expressions, such as social media, and word of mouth.

“I think what would help would be buying a CD off of an artist. There really is nothing like a hard copy of someone’s album or EP. Buying a ticket to a show that they have coming up, giving them a follow online, logging onto their live stream, add their song to your playlists, and some artists have Patreon so you can donate to that as well.”

“The main thing is just showing any support at all for what we are doing. It’s a mad concept that our career is making art, but it’s also so amazing that we get to do what we love and people are so supportive anyway, but I guess we just need it more than ever at the moment.”

Supporting artists directly, via buying physical music, downloads and other merchandise, is an effective way of helping keep ships afloat, especially as other aspects of the new music business model, including streaming services, are still very much in the process of being ironed out.

Clonakilty singer-songwriter Eve Clague discusses the value and practicalities of such support, and how it feeds into any possible plan of action.

“Well, obviously, if people buy my music directly from me, I get more out of it. Bandcamp is good too for the musician, as they can get a better return. It's very important to buy people's music at this time.”

“That's why we really rely on doing performances in venues, and it's hard to get venues that pay sometimes. We'll just have to focus on composing and writing new material, and hope that we will all be back to normal soon.”


Venues and pubs took the decision to close en masse, shortly before official advice recommended such action, after footage of shoulder-to-shoulder revellers in Dublin’s Temple Bar did nothing to convince people of the merits of 'careful' socialising.

It’ll be a tremendous expense for many venues and promoters to absorb the closures, with gigs being postponed and cancelled outright, with all of the complications that ensue for accounts and schedules, as well as headaches over the loss of bar revenues. For many, it’ll be a test of their viability, and ability to recoup fees and overheads.

Metal promotions house The Paranoid Beast, resident in Cork venues like Fred Zeppelin’s and Cyprus Avenue, has had a number of cancellations and postponements to make for the coming weeks. Co-promoter Mark Morrissey speaks on the realities of these measures, and their effects on the people facilitating live music.

“We’re only a small promoter, so we’re not so bad. But we’d to cancel one, The Celtic Thrash Tour recently, which was a b*ll*cks because the headliners were already in the country, they flew in from Scotland. That was on a Saturday, but we couldn’t do it, really.”

“The other two are rescheduled, and we’ll fit them in when things are sorted, but we had money spent on advertising, the work put in on posters and flyers, they all have to be changed.”

For venues and bigger promoters of all genres, the stakes of recouping paid deposits and working expenses for artists are raised significantly in the face of possible demands for refunds.

If at all possible, promoters are asking for tickets to be retained, and if gig-goers can’t make the new date, refunds are available, though it might also be an idea to retain them as gifts for friends and family that can.

“I got tickets there to see (UK grindcore icons) Napalm Death in Limerick, and I’m going to hold on to them, for the new date”, adds Morrissey. “As a promoter, you hope that people understand the work that goes into putting gigs on.”

“They’re spending money on advertising, on expenses, on the gig, sometimes as it’s coming in. If you’re taking that money back straight away, most likely that’s coming out of their own back pockets.”

In addition to songwriting, touring, recording, teaching and other ventures, many musicians put their talents to use in a variety of other performance capacities as part of their freelance remit, including pub bands and soloists, function entertainment, and session musicianship. Of course, these areas haven’t been exempt from the massive knock-on effect of the COVID measures, either.

Eoghan Hennessy, co-director of Cóbh-based booking agency Live Music Promotions, oversees a wide array of these bookings every weekend in small/medium-sized pubs around the country. He had a fairly atypical working Paddy’s Day this week, to say the very least.

“It would have been one of our busiest weekends of the year, much of it because of the one- and two-piece pub act scene, and that was completely annihilated.”

“Between last Thursday and Saturday (two weeks ago), we had 150 cancellations for the weekend, and what was left on the book on Saturday, I pulled the plug on for the safety of the musicians. By the middle of Friday, we knew what we were dealing with. The information was there. By Saturday, it really simplified work for us.”

For musicians on their watch, many of whom have overheads corresponding to the size of their stage setup, membership, etc., the cancellations add up over time, while the pressures remain steady.

“A lot of the bands I’m dealing with, they have their own public liability insurance, they have Revenue bills quarterly that have to be paid, insurance on vans. The ones that are registered sole traders, they’re liquidating and signing on. But look, it has to be done. There’s no rulebook for this scenario.”

A veteran multi-instrumentalist and staple of Cork’s pub scene himself in various outfits, including ‘dad-rock’ (their own label, not your writer’s) covers band The Hollyz, Hennessy feels the effect of the current upheaval keenly, but like others spoken to for this piece, retains hope that the current downtime can be a period of re-focusing, and gathering of thoughts.

“This is temporary. In the meantime, we have to stay relevant, brush up on new skills… look up new bars, look at the lay of the land, if there is bars not reopening as a result of this… and being resourceful with our time.”

Ian Ring: Still going to release music.
Ian Ring: Still going to release music.

Live music isn’t the only sphere of sonic influence to have taken a knock in the current conditions. The release of records, be they physical artifacts with tours and promotional activity attending, or more spontaneous drops to online streaming services, will inevitably be affected, also.

Gig cancellations might deprive artists of prime post-show facetime at the merch table, while digital releases will inevitably have to stand out to garner attention and mindshare, amid a bombardment of free content being made available online for those staying indoors.

Having cut his teeth in the Cork scene of the last decade with electronic duo Young Wonder, producer/composer Ian Ring has been pursuing a solo project under the name Boku, with single ‘Vermillion’ releasing now across all digital platforms.

Working mostly in the studio, and in collaboration with other artists in their process, his perspective on how things play out is slightly different, but the caution in his outlook is understandable.

“I feel it’s too early at this stage, in terms of how all this will affect royalty streams, which are more up my avenue. I have a lot of friends who depend on gigs and festivals to go ahead this year, which is obviously extremely stressful for them.”

“If a recession is in the pipeline afterwards, it would have implications for anyone working in the music industry, or the arts in general. I am still going to release music, but the thought of getting bookings will be on the backburner right now, like everyone else, I guess.”

Tiz McNamara: Was due home, but tour cancelled.
Tiz McNamara: Was due home, but tour cancelled.
Due to be coming home to Cork soon from Toronto, Canada, was singer-songwriter Tiz MacNamara. Extensive touring was to follow the release of his debut extended-player, including Irish dates, but there was a matter of weighing things up in the current circumstances.

“The COVID crisis has played havoc with my release, which was due for April 1st, but has now been postponed until May 1st. I have had to cancel a North American and European tour, including some dates in Ireland.”

“It's a huge disappointment, but when I see how foolish some people are being around the virus it just drives home the importance of keeping people safe. I'd much rather a few tough weeks or months financially than the guilt of knowing I contributed to the spread.”

Meanwhile, the city’s record shops are proceeding with caution, with independents in the city centre taking steps to protect customers by closing for the duration of the crisis.

While many retail businesses are concerned about the coming weeks and months, specifically those with perishable or seasonal stock, there is at least a sense of relief that existing vinyl and cassette stock will always be in demand from the city’s music enthusiasts.

Bunker Vinyl: Support is crucial.
Bunker Vinyl: Support is crucial.
That bottom line of support will be crucial to their continued success, according to Bunker Vinyl proprietor and techno producer John O’Dwyer, speaking from home in Dungarvan after he closed his business two weekends ago.

“It went quiet there for a while, and once the announcement got out that schools were going to be closed, a big drop-off, people didn’t want to be coming into town and stuff. I’m going to wait for government advice to reopen, don’t want to put anyone at risk, really.”

“We’ll have to play it by ear. My distribution company have held back all orders, they’re going to charge us for holding services, and wait ‘til we’re back in business. Lots of people have made orders, told us they’ll be back in to buy records.”

Like many businesses in town, the shop will be reliant on that dedicated custom, and a network of community support, to get back on their feet. So now’s as good a time as any to mention that gift vouchers are a good way to help out, widely available, and suitable for any occasion for you or your loved ones.

“That’s how people can support us,” says O’Dwyer. “Come back in, buy some records, collect your orders, which we’ll let customers know about. We sell vouchers, and we use PayPal, so if you want to buy a gift for yourself or any of your family members that are into music, we can do that.”

Stevie G: Keeping creative.
Stevie G: Keeping creative.

Deriving much of their stock-in-trade from the city’s record shops are its DJs, subject to the same cancellations and postponements as other live performers, with the loss of stable income from residencies and regular gigs compounding the financial fallout.

Among those is Leeside legend Stevie G, whose live appearances behind decks provide much of his operating income.

“I’d say eighty percent of my stuff comes from DJing, so festivals, events, private parties, clubs… if they’re cancelled, that’s the way it is, and there’s nothing we can do at the moment. From a financial point of view it’s terrible, but everyone’s the same.”

“I’m just trying to keep creative: we had a really successful gig online from my attic, I did a kids’ disco on Paddy’s morning, and there were thousands tuned in. This time two weeks back, I was getting ready to play the Electric Picnic launch, and now it nearly seems irrelevant.”

While live-streaming has also been a tremendous tool of outreach to those finding themselves indoors, Stevie is hopeful that the situation we find ourselves in will provide perspective and pause for Corkonians to re-evaluate their relationship with local-owned businesses, and their city’s artists.

“This is going to take months in my opinion. It will hopefully make us think about supporting local, whether it’s music or cafés or clubs, and also about the role of arts and music in our lives. Everyone’s online now, and music is helping everyone at the moment. We all like music, it’s a great release.”

“We all realise what we’re missing now, with gigs, clubs, meeting with friends, even going for coffee, and hopefully when things come back, things will be a little better. People are coming into their own, and the community spirit has been good.”

Uncertainty in the prevailing circumstances is inevitable. There’s nothing that any media outlet, music hack or scene cheerleader can reliably say about what happens next.

But there will be a ‘next’: in isolation and quarantine, people have come together to enjoy music and show their support via new media, as well as in their existing collections, and the idea of a blowout session when society at large safely emerges surely won’t be far from anyone’s mind.

Normality will return as Covid-19 is hopefully contained, solutions are found, and long-term help is administered, medically, socially, and economically. And even now, areas heavily affected by the spread of the virus are returning to normality after weeks of lockdown.

Cork-born DJ and electronic producer James O’Connell, now living and working as a teacher in Beijing, has borne first-hand witness to life in the depths of national containment efforts, and speaking last week was seeing life on the other side of the situation after fifty days of social distancing and self-isolation.

“Things are still weird here, and I still can’t even visit my girlfriend’s apartment because of restrictions to visitors for everyone, but it’s getting better. Ireland, thankfully, seems to be getting its act together to avoid what happened in (virus epicentres) Hubei and Italy happening there.”

“Ireland will take its own steps, and hopefully fight it just as hard. People need to tune in, and listen to (official guidelines), and not be headstrong and buckle down. It’s not easy.”

So what now?

Buy music directly from artists’ online shops and Bandcamp pages, at future gigs, or from local record shops like PLUGD, Bunker Vinyl, Records & Relics, and MusicZone.

Help represent your local favourites by wearing their T-shirts, jumpers, hoodies, and other apparel, if available. Tried, tested, and enthroned in rock ‘n’ roll mythmaking!

Check out artists’ social media, Patreon pages, podcasts, or side projects: They can provide ways of engaging with artists and their music that the traditional model hasn’t allowed.

Hold on to tickets for postponed gigs in case of rescheduling: If you can’t make the new dates, consider gifting the valid tickets forward to others before seeking refunds, if possible.

Tune in to artists’ live streams across social media platforms, spread the word, and donate if you can: Many are in the position of making up for lost gig bookings and other income.

Many musicians also teach: Check their social media, and see if they can help you discover another facet of your artistic abilities.

Local record shops do gift vouchers: Help continue the vinyl revival, or spark a new passion, by passing the joy of crate-diving to your loved ones on their upcoming special occasions.